My Girl Child was melting down. It was 8am, the Wednesday after a 4-day weekend. Predictably, with so many days off school we had lost a piece of paper. One she was supposed to have signed by a parent and return to school. I’d signed it on Friday. But you know, that was 5 days ago. Things happen.
Hence, the meltdown. The missing parent signature meant she would “lose a point” today. Losing a point doesn’t mean losing recess or other privileges; and it doesn’t hurt her grade. It’s just a point, based on behavior and generally having your act together, and my kid is THAT KID who gets a full 5 points literally every day. This was a humiliation she could not abide, and she was not just losing a point–she was royally losing her shit.
I appreciate her work ethic and responsibility, but this was nuts. As she was freaking out and I was looking for the paper, I kept telling her this: “you do not have to be perfect every day.” And after I said it out loud about 3 times, I asked myself, where does the GET this?
And before I articulated the thought entirely, I looked in the mirror.
I just bought makeup that literally says on the bottle “Stay Perfect.” From there, I went down a rabbit hole.
I don’t just buy the bottle, I wear it. (Shifting to metaphor now, stick with me). I drink it. I carry it with me to the gym, and if I’m being real, into every little corner of my life. I channel that same angst, looking for perfection in myself. How might I subliminally transmit that expectation to my daughter? Actually–if we’re being really real– to my son as well. Especially when it comes to anything academic, anything less than 100% is not acceptable to him. Even on a practice test the other day, he was totally wigging about a couple of missed questions. On a practice test! I told him “practice” was the operative word.
Tell me I am not the only one feeling this crunch. There is no permission to lean into a learning curve any more. To step into creative mess and mystery; to sit still with what’s broken in a way that might transform it. The memo, however subconscious, that shapes our days is all perfect, all the time; do it right or don’t bother. Oh, and if you’re a woman: do it all, do it right, and look good doing it.
Where did this come from? Is it the fall-out of the digital age, having everything documented, photographed, reported; and open for discussion, comment, and likes? Or maybe it’s the economy talking, with the pressing fear of scarcity and the urgent pace of everything. Or maybe it’s just the climate–political and otherwise– tensions are high, and low-key rage is the undercurrent of everything.
We walk around with a sense that we cannot fix all that is broken in the world. The weight of human suffering feels immense and beyond our control. Do we react by controlling everything that we can? We march to that drumbeat rhythm of perfect-perfect-perfect until we fall down exhausted or our kids totally fall apart. Maybe both.
I feel it in everything. The extra few pounds I carry around lately; my overdue library books and messy car; my marriage, and friendships I know I’m not tending as I should; my everyday work and the nebulous zones of ministry life–where no perfection is possible, but there also doesn’t seem to be room for much else, what with the world on fire and all.
The driving word is not just an adjective, a descriptive state of being; it is a verb. A relentless call to excellence, and a take-no-prisoners expectation. Per-fect, per-fect, per-fect.
How did I come to feel like the world’s rotation depends upon my performance? And whose permission do I need to let that go?
That’s the loaded question, isn’t it? When you get caught up in this particular parade–whose permission would allow you to stop marching and breathe?
Maybe we think it’s a spouse, or an employer. A parent, or the DOW, or whatever trend-setter is making our Insta feel so basic RN. But the truth is, Jesus Christ himself could appear to tell us that we are just right, and we wouldn’t hear it. Because we’re letting the world’s mantra of per-fect drown out all other sounds. Divine words need not apply.
I could not have named this sickness for myself until I heard myself trying to cure it for my daughter. Even as I said it out loud–you don’t have to be perfect– I knew the words alone were no good. This is an inside job. Something we have all taken into our bodies and our bones. And until I can cast this demon from my own soul and model something better, the relentless drumbeat is all they’ll know.
I can’t answer for myself entirely, where those voices come from. But I can try to at least hit the reset button for my kids, in what I practice and what I preach. So I said it to her again– you don’t have to be perfect every day.
I’ll say that again for y’all in the cheap seats. You don’t have to be perfect today. A 4-point day is totally acceptable sometimes, friends. Hell, maybe we’ve all got a 2-point day coming. We’re only human.
Here is your permission to begin the fine art of unperfecting. Today, hear these words first: you are a child of God. All other point systems are secondary. Breathe into this day the Lord has made. Focus on relationships and that which can’t be measured by any number or digital code. Trust that there is a goodness in the world that we don’t have to create, claim or contrive. That goodness starts in us, a breath of holy createdness… unperfect, and yet goodness itself.